Despite questions about its accuracy, the 2010 U.S. Census set the population of the United States at 310,232,863 by the U.S. Census Bureau. Out of this gigantic number of inhabitants, 59,926,000 receive Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or both as of April of this year.
This amounts to almost one in six residents who receive some sort of federal benefit—and you can bet your bottom dollar that this figure will rise in the next decade as the Baby Boomers begin to retire.
As we go to press, the U.S. Treasury has finally hit the debt ceiling—and the call has gone out by elected officials to trim the budget and find ways to save money.
Elected officials in Washington instinctively know they can get a rise out of the public by talking about potential cuts in Social Security benefits, Medicare and Medicaid. Though the perception has been that the social programs are in need of a major overhaul—lest they go broke, and take the national economy with them—politics as usual have derailed any real talk about how to keep these benefits solvent.
For years, some politicians have talked about privatizing public benefits or cutting them altogether. Other politicians have stirred up their supporters to loudly protest any proposed cuts. In the end, both sides have steered clear of the matter like walking around a third rail, noting that simply touching the subject would mean certain death to their political careers.
It would be nice to get a real sense of the state of Social Security in this country, but it’s hard to figure out who’s telling the truth nowadays.
For instance, the National Academy of Social Insurance released its findings of the 2011 Social Security Trustees Report, which found that the program “had an annual surplus–revenue plus interest income in excess of program [spending]–of $69 billion in 2010.”
The report continued, “annual surpluses are projected to continue for the next 12 years (2011-2022) and reserves are projected to grow to $3.7 trillion by the end of 2022.” Overall, it found that “Social Security is strong in the near term and relatively modest changes can bring it into long-term balance over the next 50 and 75 years.”
However, the official summary of the 2011 annual reports by the Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees tell a totally different story.
They claim Social Security ran a $49 billion deficit last year and is projcted to have another $46 billion deficit in 2011. Additionally, both Social Security and Medicare “face substantial cost growth in the upcoming decades due to factors that include population aging as well as the growth in expenditures per beneficiary.”
“Through the mid-2030s, due to the large Baby Boom generation entering retirement and lower-birth-rate generations entering employment, population aging is the largest single factor contributing to cost growth in the two programs,” the summary stated.
Two reports, two different views of public benefits. One side says things are going fine; the other says things are very bleak.
Where is the truth in all of this?
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